Sensitivity to lexical stress in dyslexia: A case of cognitive not perceptual stress

Johanna G. Barry, Silke Harbodt, Chiara Cantiani, Beate Sabisch, Oliver Zobay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sensitivity to lexical stress in adult German-speaking students with reading difficulty was investigated using minimal pair prepositional verbs whose meaning and syntax depend on the location of the stressed syllable. Two tests of stress perception were used: (i) a stress location task, where listeners indicated the location of the perceptually most prominent syllable, and (ii) a stress pattern identification task, where listeners indicated if the stress pattern was appropriate for its semantic frame. The students with reading difficulties performed worse than the normally reading students on both tasks. Their poorer performance did not reflect the lack of a percept for lexical stress rather patterns of performance across the two tasks suggested that each loaded onto different underlying cognitive abilities. Deficits in these, rather than perceptual difficulties, explained observed group differences. Students with reading difficulties have a normal implicit knowledge of lexical stress usage but lack the necessary cognitive resources for developing an explicit metalinguistic awareness of it. Deficits in these skills not deficiencies in lexical stress perception are implicated in their reading difficulties.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-165
Number of pages27
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012


  • dyslexia
  • metalinguistic analysis
  • metaphonological analysis
  • phonological access
  • reading difficulties

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Education


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